Skull of Zimbabwean spiritual leader who led resistance against British colonialists to be returned from UK after 100 years

Francis Akhalbey Feb 17, 2020 at 11:00am

February 17, 2020 at 11:00 am | News, Opinions & Features

Francis Akhalbey

Francis Akhalbey | Content Manager

February 17, 2020 at 11:00 am | News, Opinions & Features

The skulls of Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi are set to be returned to Zimbabwe from the UK after over 100 years

The remains of former spiritual leader of the Shona people of Zimbabwe, Mbuya Nehanda, and one of the leaders of the First Chimurenga Revolution, Sekuru Kaguvi, are set to be returned home in April after being kept as war trophies in London museums, New Zimbabwe reports.

Nehanda and Kaguvi are, to this day, celebrated for their bravery and fight to preserve their culture and resist British oppression during the 1896 to 1897 revolution. They were both sentenced to death and hanged in 1898 for the murder of Native Commissioner Henry Hawkins Pollard and a police officer.

Twenty-five other skulls of other resistance fighters as well as a sacred talking rod are also set to be returned. Their remains have been on display at the Westminster Abbey and the National History museums in London, New Zimbabwe further reports.

Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi in prison in 1897

“It has been close to 40 years after we attained our independence and we still haven’t brought back the skulls of our icons and our culture rightly says if a person dies or is killed in a native land that person can only rest if the body and soul has been united with their roots” reigning Chief Makoni, Colgan Zendera said.

“After a thorough research, we found out that there are about 27 heads that were taken and gifted to the British crown as war medals,” he continued.

“We are very grateful that the repatriation process is now ending and very soon, we would have brought back the remains of our ancestors, so that we can reunite their skulls with their roots, because they belong here.

“Many people might just think the skulls are not important but they are very important, and the white settlers knew that if they take just the head then they have disconnected the connection between the body and the head and the person will not become a spirit medium.”

Why is Mbuya Nehanda so revered?

Nehanda Charwe Nyakasikana, also known as Mbuya Nehanda, was believed to be the incarnation of the original Nyamhika Nehanda, whose spirit lived on with her people.

Nyakasikana was recognised as an incarnation of Nehanda when she was born in the mid-1800s and throughout her life in Chidamba village in Mashonaland. She was the spiritual leader for her people and was the custodian of their heritage, culture and history.

When the British arrived on their lands in Zimbabwe, Nyakasikana is said to have welcomed them with a black cow. The spiritual leader, who had a huge influence over her people, managed to convince them not to be afraid of the whites. Through her, the British established a great relationship with the chiefs and people who traded with each other.

By the late 1880s, the British had established themselves in Zimbabwe. However, the relationship between them and the locals began to take a toxic turn when the British began to steal the lands, capture people into slavery and demand taxes from the locals.

With the turn of events, Nyakasikana made it her responsibility to resist western rule and their forced social structures. She made sure to be present during trade negotiations and prevent the British from taking advantage of the people. Along with her messengers, she travelled from village to village to encourage the people to resist the westerners and their many rules.

As part of their plans to take control and make profit from the locals in Zimbabwe, the British rolled out the hut tax in 1894,  which made several locals leave their lands and relocate to segregated areas. This triggered anger among the Shona and Ndebele people leading to the First Chimurenga (War of Liberation) of 1896 to 1897.

The Chimurenga war, also known as the Second Matabele War, was, according to traditional history, led by the three leading spirit mediums including Nyakasikana. She was the only woman among the spiritual and traditional leaders and was greatly supported by Sereku Kaguvi, who is described as her spirit husband.

Due to Nyakasikana’s great influence and indulgence in the war, the British ordered her arrest to silence her and to serve as a warning to other leaders. Nyakasikana was able to escape arrest for a whole year until 1897 when she was captured with Kaguvi for the murder of Commissioner Pollard who was killed at Nehanda’s command during the early days of the war in 1896.

According to oral history, it took three attempts to strip off Nyakasikana’s traditional pouch before she was successfully hanged.

Today, Nyakasikana is celebrated as the grandmother of Zimbabwe and a heroine of the resistance, who will always be remembered for her last words at death ‘My bones will rise again’.

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